Many people in metal manufacturing can agree that the field needs more exposure to attract new talent. But what about introducing it in prisons? We spoke with James Kahler from Unicor to learn more about their efforts. Unicor has many manufacturing divisions, and the one in Milan, Michigan focuses on office furniture. The metal components are stamped, machined or welded and then assembled by the inmates who are learning about this trade.
After passing a preliminary screening/interview, and a general knowledge and math test, inmates have the option to enroll in a wide variety of manufacturing programs. Upon completion, they can receive a journeyman’s card or, if there isn’t a course available through the department of labor, a certificate documenting the hours they invested into their skill(s). If for some reason the inmate gets released early, they will receive letters of recommendation and documentation of the hours they did complete while still institutionalized, ensuring that they get credit for their hard work. The mission of Unicor is: To protect society (and) reduce crime by preparing inmates for successful re-entry through job training.
In some ways, this experience is better than a classroom for some folks. In the tool and die program, inmates are getting a wide variety of practical experience sharpening, assessing, building dies and much more. Kahler said that “Everyone learns differently. It is so rewarding when you see that lightbulb come on and everything makes sense.” A big component of these programs is doing hands-on, tactile work. Unicor is very fortunate to have some more modern equipment with well-known names and technology that is a huge asset to the knowledge of the people in the programs. Having familiarity with relevant machines in the program allows for an easier transfer of skills in the real world.
The best aspect of this program, in both Wisconsin Metal Part’s and Kahler’s opinions, is bringing awareness to this career option and industry. “A lot of them did not know this existed before they came into prison… and had no idea that there were dies stamping out stuff” Kahler admits. As the older generations begin to retire, it is important to look towards younger folks to take up the mantle and become experts in these trades. The program at Unicor is a great way to initiate that.
Over the last two years, Wisconsin Metal Parts has had the privilege to work with Unicor. James Kahler had heard about our company from his previous place of employment and knew about the services we offered. After the Wire EDM machine died at his new organization, he found that WMPI offered the best quality and the best price when it came to die block components. It is nice to see our work go towards an initiative that is helping make a difference in the lives of many and bringing exposure to metal manufacturing as a career path. We welcome challenges, and serve all of our customers with purpose, pride and passion.